Courtesy of The History Center

The History Center's tent at Ithaca Reggae Fest showcased the city's rich reggae past.

June 25, 2018

Ithaca Fest Celebrates Reggae Community, Explores Untapped Local Potential

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Ithacans gathered in Stewart Park this past weekend to listen to the sounds of reggae music at the Ithaca Reggae Fest 2018 where artists such as Kevin Kinsella, Sister Carol and Clinton Fearon performed.

The festival recognizes the reggae community in Ithaca, according to Michael Mazza, one of the founders and organizers of the event.

Growing up in Ithaca, Mazza said he “took for granted that we had this reggae in Ithaca.” After returning, however, he realized that there was untapped potential.

“There was an opportunity for Ithaca to really celebrate this reggae community that we have,” Mazza told The Sun.

Mazza explained that the festival’s history “dates back to the 1980s when a guy by the name of John Peterson, who was the owner of The Haunt, was bringing Jamaican acts to Ithaca.” This, to Mazza, was the planting of the roots of reggae in Ithaca.

Ithaca has played a prominent role in reggae culture, according to Mazza.

“If you go out to California, which is the hotbed of reggae in the United States right now, a lot of those bands will attribute Ithaca, New York, Kevin Kinsella and John Brown’s Body as being the place, the people and the band that laid the groundwork for the American reggae scene,” Mazza said.

To showcase Ithaca’s role in reggae culture, The History Center has worked with Kinsella to create an exhibit at the festival.

“Within our collaborative exhibit celebrating the reggae history of Ithaca, we will invite people to share and record their stories. This oral history project is hoped to establish a display in The History Center’s new space,” Ksenia Lonova from The History Center’s community outreach and visitor services said in an email to The Sun.

Mazza said the intention of the festival is to be “community-minded” and “to have a community celebration about what it is to be this reggae community.”

Mazza called this year’s festival a “tribute to the legends.” He said “we feel blessed” for there to be three headliners at Ithaca Reggae Fest amid “all the other local superstars.”

He hopes that the festival will “bring the good vibes.”

“The live music, culture, festivals, specifically in the reggae scene — it’s a positive, uplifting experience,” he said.

Mazza hopes festival goers can bring their experience at the festival into the outside world.

“We can take that experience out of the festival, out into our communities and continue that every day … that’s what we hope, that people will take what they get from the experience and take it back to wherever they go,” Mazza said.